Mangroves and seagrass beds have received considerable attention as nurseries for reef fish, but comparisons have often been made with different methodologies. Thus, relative importance of different habitats to specific size-classes of reef fish species remains unclear. In this study, 35 transects in 11 sites of mangroves, seagrass beds and coral reef were surveyed daily, in and in front of a marine bay on the island of Curaçao (Netherlands Antilles). The density and size-frequency of nine reef fish species (including herbivores, zoobenthivores and piscivores) was determined during a five-month period using a single methodology, viz. underwater visual census. All species were ‘ nursery species ’ in terms of their high densities of juveniles in mangroves or seagrass beds. Relative density distribution of the size-classes of the selected species over mangroves and seagrass beds suggested high levels of preference for either mangroves or seagrass beds of some species, while other species used both habitats as a nursery. Spatial size distribution of the nine species suggested three possible models for Post-settlement Life Cycle Migrations (PLCM). Haemulon sciurus , Lutjanus griseus , L. apodus , and Acanthurus chirurgus appear to settle and grow up in bay habitats such as mangroves and seagrass beds, and in a later stage migrate to the coral reef (Long Distance PLCM). Juveniles of Acanthurus bahianus and Scarus taeniopterus were found only in bay habitats at close proximity to the coral reef or on the reef itself, and their migration pattern concerns a limited spatial scale (Short Distance PLCM). Some congeneric species carry out either Long Distance PLCM or Short Distance PLCM, thereby temporarily alleviating competition in reef habitats. Haemulon flavolineatum , Ocyurus chrysurus and Scarus iserti displayed a Stepwise PLCM pattern in which smallest juveniles dwell in the mouth of the bay, larger individuals then move to habitats deeper into the bay, where they grow up to a (sub-) adult size at which they migrate to nearby coral reef habitats. This type of stepwise migration in opposite directions, combined with different preference for either mangroves or seagrass beds among (size-classes of) species, shows that reef fish using in-bay habitats during post-settlement life stages may do so by choice and not merely because of stochastic dispersal of their larvae, and underline the necessity of these habitats to Caribbean coral reef systems.
Estuarine Coastal and Shelf Science – Elsevier
Published: Aug 1, 2002
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